Kids' stuff

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 October, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 October, 2004, 12:00am

The acceptable toy has to be many things - but fun should be the uppermost consideration

Buying a toy for a child is about more than just budget considerations and the child's interests and desires. Getting it absolutely right takes some investigation.

The first thing to consider is safety. Regulation standards exist in abundance. The CE mark on toys and labels is a declaration by the manufacturer that the toy is made to legal safety standards. The Lion Mark used by members of the British Toy and Hobby Association indicates the toy is produced to high quality standards.

Hong Kong is making efforts to raise toy safety standards through the Toys and Children's Products Safety Regulation. It provides world-class standard guidelines for the industry, with government inspectors following up on enforcement.

Toy manufacturing on the mainland is monitored by the China Toys Association, which has published a raft of toy safety standard guidelines.

While regulations and standards exist, common sense must prevail. In a market flooded with fakes, Hong Kong's toy-buying public is advised to take care and shop from registered outlets and licensed traders only.

At Toys 'R' Us, for example, toys are tested to European and American safety standards. Issues of toxic material use and labelling are thoroughly investigated, according to the company's Asia managing director, Pieter Schats.

And if you have got the safety standards right, there is still political correctness to consider.

Educational toy shop Helix Books caters for a clientele that has an opinion about what is a good or bad toy, and is willing to find outlets that supply top-end products from Europe and the United States.

Owner Kathy Ng, who also supplies local and international school libraries in Hong Kong, stocks the store with a range of wooden toys, IQ testing and developing puzzles and Dorling Kindersley games and kits.

'Parents in Hong Kong are keen to purchase toys and games that will help develop their children's academic and language skills,' Ms Ng says.

Helix Books bestsellers are the Jacqueline Wilson books, the Magic Tree House series and the Dorling Kindersley range. Multimedia games and arts and crafts kits are also popular, although it is hard to encourage traditionalists to open up to the idea of creative play, she says.

Another educational toy outlet, Wise Kids, carries a comprehensive range of educational toys, including LEGO, Brio and Lamaze - products designed on the back of in-depth educational and psychological research that came out of Sweden in the '80s and '90s.

However, Mr Schats of Toys 'R' Us warns that not many customers can warm to a $600 price tag on an item despite it coming with the benefit of perfect attention to child development.

Toys 'R' Us views European toy-making as traditionally 'more educational', and American toy manufacturing as more 'fun'.

The Asian market is viewed as having followed European tastes to some degree. Toys 'R' Us research indicates that 'Asians do not shop as much for toys or as many times, and tend to focus on educational-type products'.

Having said that, last year's winner of the Girl Toy of the Year Award went to MGA Entertainment for their Bratz Super Stylin Runway Disco, while the Boy Toy of the Year Award went to Toy Biz's Hulk Hands, which just pipped Beyblade to the post.

While Ms Ng and Mr Schats stock their stores with an awareness that 'parents tend to lean towards products of educational value', they are also keenly aware of the fact that 'children are already informed about what they want through peer group pressure at school and fads, and are the final decision makers'.

A toy of educational value may also succeed at being politically correct, but whether children find politically correct toys fun is another matter.

'Violent toys' are easier to spot and respond to, and Toys 'R' Us maintains a strict policy of not stocking them.

Mr Schats points out that Toys 'R' Us does not stock toy guns, and the company also screens all game and video content in their multimedia section.

So, if they are safe and not violent, and contain some educational value, can we say we have a good toy, as opposed to a bad toy?

Not necessarily.

A toy may be all these things, but if it is no fun to play with then it has not served its primary function.

Can there be such a thing, then, as a good or bad toy?

'Too many toys is probably a bad thing,' Mr Schats says.

'Toys are a vehicle for social interaction. Toys 'R' Us maintain a strict requirement to look after the interests of children. Safety and quality are paramount.'